I've enjoyed coffee since I was 15 or so. When I'd visit my Godmother she had this neat single-serve Keurig machine where you'd pop a plastic cup of coffee grounds in, fill the reservoir with water and in less than a minute you'd have a mug full of hot coffee. The taste was not the best but it was extremely convenient.

A few years later during a trip across the US with my family, a 16oz americano became my regular order anytime we stopped at a coffee house. It's not always a spectacular taste as it's simply an espresso cut with water. The only interesting variation in this drink is in how much water is used to pull the espresso shot. With a lungo the shot is pulled with about twice as much water as a typical espresso shot. This extracts a wider band of flavors from the grounds as it takes more time to pull a lungo than a standard espresso. The counterpart of a lungo is a ristretto which uses about half the water, producing a more "concentrated" flavor profile.

Coffee Houses on the West Coast

A lot of my family lives in the Pacific Northwest, in and around Washington so from time-to-time I find myself visiting the area. It's really beautiful, especially Oregon with its large forests and perpetual fog near the coast. I've always found it interesting that there are so many drive-thru coffee houses there, it's not something I see on the East coast often. These shops are drive-thru only and seem to bring in a fair number of people as they're always quite busy. The buildings are very tiny and maybe two or three people work there at a time. I think that I'd start up a company like this on the East coast if I really found the urge to start a business venture.


In my time on-campus during university (and especially near the due-dates for term papers or projects) I'd camp near one of the many Port City Java coffee bars and slug my americano while churning out code or proofs. As expected of a coffee shop on a college campus every one was perpetually busy but the crowd did fluctuate some when nearby lectures ended. These shops stayed open quite late too, so if I ever needed a bit of energy in the later afternoon I knew where to go. Not just on weekdays but weekends too they were open.

As part of the on-campus dining plan students were allocated a number of "meal swipes" for the week which, given that they were lumped in with tuition costs and therefore covered by grants or loans, were essentially free and you were just missing out if you did not maximize the week's meal swipes. In my first and second year when I lived on-campus and enjoyed this perk I'd always fill out my weekly allocation with a visit to the coffee shop, often grabbing a muffin or coffee cake too since the swipe was good for up to $7.50.

Abroad in Tōkyō

I drank a good deal of coffee abroad in Japan as well. Though there were not many "regular" coffee shops on the Sophia University campus there were plenty of vending machines selling all kinds of coffee. From hot (あったか~い) to chilled (つめた~い) coffee, these machines had at least 5 different brands of coffee to choose from. Often for a mere 110円 you could have a hot can of the world's finest BOSS coffee, so hot that is actually scalding your hand. I found it necessary many times to stick the can in my hoodie pocket right after buying it from the machine because the can felt like it was giving me third-degree burns just by holding it.

Not just black coffee, but coffee au lait you could also buy from these machines, equally hot or chilled. Steel cans are truly amazing and it's a shame we cannot have the same in the US, or really anywhere else in the world. The coffee either comes as a pop-tab can or twist-top steel bottles.

You can also buy many of these brands of canned coffee at a convenience store, which there is equally no shortage of in Tōkyō.

In addition to vending machines and convenience stores, I also found a number of shops dedicated to coffee. I often visited the Starbucks just north of my neighborhood in Sensō-ji, which is a very popular tourist destination for Japanese and internationals alike. This made for a very entertaining coffee shop experience, as often I'd find myself in line with other Americans who (I guess) found the Starbucks to be the closest thing to a slice-of-home so many miles away. This place was always packed, but I sometimes was able to find a seat inside and knock out some homework while I sipped my americano.

In 2018 smoking was still permitted in restaurants in Tōkyō, albeit in a closed-off separate "smoking" section redolent of when I was much younger and restaurants would ask my parents if they'd "like a smoking or non-smoking seat". This made the atmospheres in many restaurants, especially coffee shops, hazy and foreign to me. Even the Mos Burger, a burger shop which puts a focus on their coffee too, had a smoking section at the time. This has since changed, I believe, and was codified in one of the many laws introduced ahead of the Tōkyō Olympics.

At Home

Boredom one Summer led me to accepting a job in a local coffee house in August 2019. While it was fun going to school and working at the same time, I often felt that working in this capacity was a distraction from what I could be doing instead. Work began piling up for my senior design project and frequently I was getting less and less sleep since I needed to be at work often at 6AM. This became too much to handle and in November that year I threw in the towel to instead focus on school and on my graduation the next semester.

My time working there was pleasant, though. The atmosphere, busy at times, was refreshing and brand-new to me. The shop was one of the only two coffee shops carrying the name. Neither of these stores could accommodate a drive-through so all our business was done with foot traffic. This meant that on rainy days, especially days where the seasonal hurricanes made landfall somewhere on the Eastern seaboard, almost no-one came in. These days were the best and the laziest. Sometimes I'd clean the same counter 10 times in an afternoon without ever seeing anyone use it. Being bored, as one of my (Idaho-native) professors at Sophia University put it, is something we've forgotten how to do.

Boredom, it seemed, was the background noise for children of an earlier age, before there was any internet or broadcast TV as we know it now. Boredom, it seemed, was integral to that time, when one could sit outside and watch the trees bend with the blowing of the hot summer wind, or watch cars scuttle by on their way to something far removed from this lazy existence. This is the boredom I felt wiping down these counters and tables and chairs.

One other thing: the shop has no way to track orders save for a pad of sticky notes. For this reason there is a lexicon of short-hand you must learn for writing down orders quickly and concisely. This helps especially in the mornings when people rush in and out of the doors so quickly. It could be stressful sometimes but at the end of the day I felt satisfied.

The pay was awful though and I made more doing less as a government employee than I ever made at that coffee shop.

It was around this time I began brewing drip coffee at home instead of using my percolator. The taste is much fuller because of the control one can exert over the different variables of brewing: water temperature, saturation, drip intensity, aeration, etc. Today it is the only kind of coffee I will make.